Pakistan (MNN) — At midnight local time yesterday, Pakistan released Asia Bibi from a Multan jail where she had been serving the last eight years on death row for a blasphemy conviction.
FMI’s Bruce Allen says due to security concerns, everything is fluid. “At first there were news blackouts in Pakistan from local news TV media outlets, but still it was being reported on the web… She has been transferred from the prison to another site to be able to be ready to fly out of the country.”
Bibi’s blasphemy conviction was a test case on the harsh laws in Pakistan. Islam is Pakistan’s national religion and underpins its legal system. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong.
The Supreme Court ruling sparked protests from Islamists and the government had said it would bar her from leaving Pakistan. Extremists have already been rioting over the Supreme Court’s decision to acquit her, prompting a delay in her release.
Now, with Bibi secretly spirited out of prison, Allen says, “We are preparing that there will be violent protests across Pakistan with Christians as the targets. The government is really trying to reign in this TLP party (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan) that had spearheaded the previous protests.”
Meanwhile, the government has banned public gatherings to try to prevent riots, a move which protest mobs apparently ignored, as incidents were reported in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar, among other large cities.
A number of countries have offered the family asylum, Allen says. “Italy was one of the more recent ones to say, ‘Hey, we stand ready.’ France had earlier; I know there were specific appeals to the UK.” At least four other nations have offered safe haven to Asia Bibi and her family.
The tricky part comes over the deal Pakistan’s authorities have struck with the TLP to end their protests. As part of the deal, the government will not prevent dissenters from legally challenging the Supreme Court decision to release her. The government also previously stated they would put Bibi on an exit control list to prevent her from leaving the country.
“She is not on the exit control list now,” explains Allen. “They have said, ‘No, we are not going to do that. She has committed no crime. There is no justification for us to put her on that list.’”
So will Bibi be able to leave Pakistan safely? The answer, so far, is uncertain.
“She still might not be able to leave Pakistan until there is a review of her case based on the agreement that the government had signed a few days ago with the TLP…. Although, all the indications are that she is preparing to do so and going to facilities that will accommodate that.”
FMI is trying to make sure that the Christians are prepared for the backlash. Pakistan is likely to be tumultuous for some time.
“[Pakistani Christians] need to be prepared with fuel and food in their homes so if they need to stay put indoors for a few days, they are equipped to do so.”
Allen lists a few things we can be urgently praying for in the coming days.
“Do pray for Asia to be safely reunited with her husband and that they get to expeditiously leave the country. Even though she is not in prison, she is not safe there. There are fatwas which have put the price on her head. There would be people who want to kill her immediately in Pakistan.
“But we do want to pray with rejoicing and thanksgiving that what we had prayed about for a decade has finally happened. This woman who was unjustly charged has finally been set free.
“Then praying for the Christians in Pakistan – for their protection, for their wisdom, their courage, and as always, their ability to forgive those who abuse them and to bless their enemies as Scripture would tell us to do. I’m glad to serve with partners who say, ‘We want to bless the other citizens, the Muslim majority in Pakistan. We want to share hope and good news and God’s purposes with them.”
Header photo of Asia Bibi and her lawyer courtesy of Open Doors USA.